Small Australian Penguins Saved By Large White Dogs


Just off the picturesque coast of Warrnambool city in Australia, lies a hidden gem called Middle Island. This unassuming island is not only a breathtaking natural wonder, but it is also home to some very small and special residents who have become the center of a remarkable achievement.

Meet the adorable little penguin, affectionately known as the fairy penguin. As their name suggests, these charming creatures are the smallest penguins in the world, standing at a mere 35 centimeters tall. Despite their petite size, they possess a unique spirit that captures the hearts of locals and visitors alike.

However, the tranquility of Middle Island was once disrupted by a grave threat to the little penguin population. Starting in 1991, sedimentation and tidal patterns created a temporary pathway, a tidal causeway, between the island and the mainland. Unfortunately, this newfound connection proved to be a gateway for foxes, who swiftly seized the opportunity to wreak havoc on the vulnerable ground-nesting birds.

In the face of this crisis, an unexpected hero emerged. Swampy Marsh, a humble chicken farmer residing nearby, possessed a wealth of knowledge on outsmarting and protecting his flock from foxes. Although Marsh lacked formal training in conservation, his experience and understanding of fox behavior allowed him to develop ingenious strategies over the years.

Marsh, who raised up to 5,000 chickens that roamed freely, employed the assistance of Maremma dogs as guardians. These majestic white pooches, officially known as Pastori Maremma-Abruzzesi due to their Italian origins from the coastal region of Maremma, proved to be exceptional protectors of Marsh’s cherished chickens. Recognizing the similarities between the defenseless little penguins and his beloved flock, Marsh believed that the same protective scheme could work wonders for the island’s imperiled penguin community.

Despite the official prohibition on dogs stepping foot on Middle Island, the gravity of the little penguins’ plight compelled the Warrnambool city council to take a chance. Marsh, accompanied by his faithful dog named Oddball, arrived on the island, ready to embark on their unconventional mission.

Together, this unlikely duo set out to safeguard the tiny residents of Middle Island. With Oddball patrolling the shores, their presence acted as a deterrent to the cunning foxes, protecting the vulnerable penguins and giving them a fighting chance to thrive. The bond between the dedicated chicken farmer and his loyal dog symbolized the resilience and determination of individuals united for a noble cause.

The news of Marsh and Oddball’s endeavors quickly spread, captivating the hearts of people near and far. Their remarkable efforts not only saved the little penguins from the brink of disaster but also ignited a renewed sense of hope and admiration for the incredible power of human compassion.

Today, Middle Island stands as a testament to the profound impact that ordinary individuals can have when they rise to the challenge. The harmony between humans, dogs, and penguins serves as a poignant reminder of the importance of coexistence and the tireless pursuit of protecting our precious wildlife.


Their success was immediate and enduring, completely transforming the approach to fox entry onto the island. Consequently, Oddball’s involvement became professionalized, leading to the establishment of the Middle Island Project, dedicated to breeding and utilizing Maremma dogs for the protection of Middle Island.

Between 2006 and 2017, the initial pair of Maremma dogs, Eudy and Tula, effectively prevented any fox attacks, resulting in a thriving population of 180 penguins on the island.

The role of these dogs does not involve physically attacking the foxes; instead, they simply accompany each other on the island. When they detect the scent of a fox in the vicinity, their resonant and deep barks are sufficient to intimidate and deter the predators. Conservationists ensure that the dogs are given occasional breaks and provide them with all the necessary resources, including food, water, shade, and companionship, enabling them to carry out their duties effectively.

So, if you ever find yourself in Warrnambool, take a moment to visit Middle Island and witness the remarkable legacy forged by the unlikely hero and his faithful canine companion. As you admire the scenic beauty and observe the bustling penguin colony, remember the tale of Swampy Marsh and Oddball, a story of triumph over adversity that continues to inspire and awe.


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